Monday, April 28, 2014

“Look closely, look often” for emerging plants

Bob Henrickson & Karma Larsen

        After a long, gray winter, there’s nothing more welcome than the first spring blossoms.  Once that first tight bud opens, a whole range of slow, subtle transformations will occur.  Even a daily walk-through isn’t frequent enough to catch all the drama going on in the garden.
                Prairie ecologist J. E. Weaver’s “look closely, look often,” is sage advice.  Emerging, awakening, unfurling, flowering, fruiting—plants reward anyone who takes the time to pay attention. Everyone has their own favorites, but here’s a list of beauties just starting to make their appearance now, and with much more to offer as the growing season progresses.
Early-flowering Perennials
                Celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum. Woodland perennial with bright, oak-like leaves and yellow flowers from spring to early summer. Prefers shade and rich, moist soil; may die back in dry weather but will self-sow.
                Variegated Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum multiflorum ‘Variegatum’. Emerging leaves are striped ivory-white along arching stems. Delicate, vase-shaped white flowers hang from stems in May. In fall blue-black fruits hang from the stems and leaves turn a nice yellow. Prefers shade and rich, organic soils. Once established, tolerates dry shade and form full patches with stems all arranged in the same direction. Combines well with spring bulbs or groundcovers.
                Sulfur epimedium, Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’. A low-growing groundcover that can tolerate the shade under trees. Stems are wiry, so the foliage  moves readily in the wind. Delicate flowers in April and colorful, varied fall foliage. Needs organic matter, but drought-tolerant once established.
                Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica.  Wonderful woodland flower with beautiful blue blossoms in April and May.  May take awhile to establish but will colonize and spread readily once established. Tends to go dormant in summer months.
                Creeping Jacob’s ladder or Greek valerian, Polemonium caeruleum.  A Missouri wildflower with bell-shaped light blue flowers in late spring (name refers to the way leaves are arranged like rungs of a ladder).
                Columbine, Aquilegia canadense.  Red and yellow bell-shaped flowers are held high above the foliage in spring. Prefers fertile, well-drained soil and some shade. May rebloom if cut back after first bloom.
                Fremont’s clematis, Clematis fremontii. A Plains clematis that grows like a herbaceous perennial. It has a non-vining habit, 20" x 12" with stems emerging in clusters. Thick, leathery leaves emerge in early spring and attractive 1" urn-shaped flowers with thick blue to purple petals in May. Like most clematis species, it can take several years to grow into maturity.
                Prairie smoke, Geum triflorum.  Reddish pink, nodding flowers are blooming right now, but the silvery pink seedheads that really draw our attention, and that gave this plant its common name.
                Pasque flower, Pulsatilla.  Drought-tolerant prairie native with delicate lavender, cup-shaped flowers in early spring followed by silky seedheads.
                Turkish creeping veronica, Veronica liwanensis.  A wonderful, fast-growing groundcover that can take very tough conditions. Glossy evergreen leaves create a nice carpet. Beautiful sky blue flowers may rebloom later in the season.
                Shell-leaf penstemon, Penstemon grandiflora. Waxy foliage is gray and glossy. Flowers are wonderful shades of lavendar and pink, blooming in late May and June. Prefers well-drained soil, full sun and light, sandy soil. 
(PHOTOS OF EMERGING FOLIAGE, bluebells and Celandine poppies)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Beauty of Buckeyes

Though its common name is Ohio buckeye, Aesculus glabra is native to much of east and central United States, including southeast Nebraska. The name refers to the large, shiny seeds produced in late summer that resemble a deer’s eye. 
        Buckeyes prefer moist, well-drained soil and grows to 20-50 feet in height. They're not recommended as street trees, but they can add beauty and diversity to landscapes. 
        Other species of buckeye include yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava) and bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). Yellow buckeye is similar to Ohio buckeye but bottlebrush buckeye is a shrub rather than a tree, growing to 8-12 feet with large, showy flowers mid-summer. 
        Plantsman Michael Dirr says bottlebrush buckeye is a "superb shrub for foliage effect... even if it never flowered." And Dirr quotes W.J. Bean as saying "no better plant could be recommended as a lawn shrub." 

Written by Karma Larsen

Monday, April 14, 2014

Plant Persimmon for Fall Fruit

Written by Kristina Jensen

        There is a rare and fascinating tree whose native range is just outside of Nebraska.  Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. is a deciduous tree that can be found growing in dry woodlands, limestone glades, prairies, thickets, abandoned fields and along roadsides. 
        In spring, tiny yellow bell-shaped flowers adorn newly leafed-out branches. The foliage is dark green and glossy above, paler below. It turns buttery-yellow in autumn, infrequently reddish-purple. One to two-inch berries change from green to yellow to dark orange in color before maturing in late fall. Dark, alligator back-like bark maintains interest through the winter.
        The fruit is edible and can be rather astringent before a flavor-taming frost. It has a wonderful pumpkin-like flavor and can be used in breads, puddings or other baked goods. 
        The persimmon has a variety of uses outside of the ornamental landscape.  Its suckering growth habit can be utilized for naturalized areas and erosion control.  Its fruit makes it a perfect choice for wildlife plantings and for human consumption.  The pulp can be used in a variety of baked goods, syrups, jellies and ice cream.  The seeds have been used as a coffee substitute; the leaves can be brewed for a tea; the flowers are useful in honey-making.  A relative of ebony, persimmon wood has also been valued in the production of textile shuttles, golf club heads and parquet flooring.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Great Trees for Small Landscapes

  Don and Jan Riggenbach, Freelance Writers and Plant Lovers

        No matter how small your yard or how fully-planted you might think it is, you probably have room for at least one more tree.  Maybe not a giant oak, but most yards can still accommodate another small ornamental tree, or one of the delightful understory trees that are native, or adapted, to our Midwestern landscapes.
        During the first 15 years we lived on our acreage we enjoyed the native woodlands that surround a ravine on the property.  But we wanted a lot more variety, height, shade and structure in our landscape so we began planting species and cultivars of native and introduced, non-invasive trees and shrubs about 15 years ago.  Our collection has grown to several hundred and we love them all, but here are a “delightful dozen” that rank among our favorites.
        Shantung maple (Acer truncatum). This is a terrific small maple, whose leaves turn a beautiful reddish-orange in fall.  Our specimen was damaged by the October 1997 snowstorm, but with a little pruning quickly recovered its oval shape.  It does best in full sun but can take a little shade and still produce fall color.
        Trident maple (Acer buergerianum), photo top right.  Even visitors who profess no interest in trees seem to notice the dainty, 3-lobed leaves and muscly trunk of this delightful small maple.  The dark green leaves turn a brilliant red every fall, and our two specimens have shrugged off some major snow and ice storms.
        American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana). “Musclewood” is a small, adaptable, understory tree with few insect or disease problems and nice orange-red fall color.  It’s perfect for filling the gap between grass or groundcovers and the crowns of bigger shade trees.
        Katsuratree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum).  Our 13-year-old katsura towers 35’ above a pathway behind the house.  Its rounded leaves—red-tinged in spring, blue-green in summer and yellow in the fall—never fail to attract visitors’ interest.  We like it so much we’ve planted two more. 
        White fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), photo opposite. This tiny, slow-growing tree, which thrives in either partial shade or full sun, rewards us with a spectacular flower show every spring.  A friend gave us the 1917 book Trees Worth Knowing, which says, “Whoever goes into the woods in May is rewarded for many miles of tramping if he comes upon a ‘snow flower tree’ (fringetree) in the height of its blooming season…an experience that will not be forgotten.”  Fortunately, you can grow one at home and save the tramping.
        American yellowwood (Cladrastis lutea). This handsome, low-branching, rounded tree is mid-sized.  We like its spring show of lacy white flowers, although ours often takes a year off between peak performances.  Its bright green leaves provide a nice contrast to the darker leaves of oaks and maples. 
        Seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides). This unusual small tree provides a late summer show of 6-inch-long clusters of creamy-white flowers.  After the petals fall, the sepals turn rosy-red, producing a stunning flowering effect that lasts until Thanksgiving.  Seven-son has handsome, peeling bark that resembles that of a crapemyrtle.
        Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). Dawn redwood’s delightful, feathery, bright-green leaves change to rich, reddish-brown in the fall.  It’s a deciduous conifer from Asia, once thought to be extinct, and grows fairly rapidly into a huge, pyramidal tree.  Ours flourishes in a low, wet, open spot.
        American hophornbeam  (Ostrya virginiana). Happy in either full sun or as an understory tree, “ironwood” has elm-shaped leaves and showy spring flowers.  In his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael Dirr writes that its autumn color is seldom effective and the leaves fall early.  That has not been the case for our hophornbeams.  Instead, the leaves turn from yellow to rusty brown, hanging on most of the winter. We love the greenish-white fruits that resemble hops, too.
        Mongolian oak (Quercus mongolica). We’d grow this one for its bright red fall color alone, although its dark-green summer foliage is eye-pleasing, too.  Our two specimens are low-branching with a full, oval shape and no problems.
        Common sassafras (Sassafras albidum). A pleasure in all four seasons, sassafras has bright yellow early-spring flowers and multi-shaped leaves that are bright green in summer, changing to orange, red and purple in fall.  The bark is a dark reddish brown, very handsome in winter.  Although suckering can occur, ours has remained a handsome, single-stemmed tree and has yet to produce a single sucker.
        Lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia), photo opposite. This is the real Chinese elm, not to be confused with the weedy, breakage-prone Siberian elms that are often mistakenly called Chinese.  The lacebark has, as its name suggests, beautiful bark.  It also has small, glossy-green leaves and is highly resistant to Dutch elm disease.   Two great cultivars are ‘Glory’ and ‘Hallelujah’ from Arbor Village Nursery in Holt, Missouri.